How to improve your Chinese listening skills
Is “ting bu dong” one of the phrases you most used when you began learning the Mandarin Chinese language? Or, are you after several months of Chinese language learning, still afraid of talking to native Chinese speakers?
Probably, most of the time, you can make yourself understood to native Chinese speakers. But when they are impressed by your Chinese and excited to answer your questions, it would be so frustrating for you to find you still need to reply with “ting bu dong”, even after several months of learning Chinese. This is because native Chinese speakers often use vocabulary outside of your HSK-textbooks. Also native Chinese speakers can talk so fast, or have an accent which might make you wonder if you’re listening to a completely alien language.
Despite all the difficulties in listening, you can unlock the ability to hear all the Chinese words that native speakers say. Just follow the tips below for you to improve your Chinese listening skills.
Know what level your Chinese listening skill is
Before we start your listening practice, make sure you really know where you are in terms of Chinese language progression. You can either take a level test at a professional Chinese learning institution, or from a professional Chinese language teacher, and ask them to give you detailed feedback that you can figure out what your weakness is. At GoEast Mandarin we also provide such a Chinese language assessment service for free.
Select your Chinese listening resources
For Chinese language learners, it’s good to start with recordings of your Chinese learning materials or recordings for different levels on some Chinese learning websites. With the feedback from your level test, you can choose the recordings that suit your level.
If you can understand 60% to 70% of the recording, it is the best for you.
If you are a newbie in Chinese learning or you are not used to listening to Chinese, recordings from your Chinese learning textbook can be your first choice. But these audios can be boring after a period of intensive practice, thus websites such as CSLPOD and DuChinese can be a good choice because they will provide you with more fun recordings.
If you can understand most of the simple talk in Chinese, but want to catch up with natural speed, ChinesePod is also a good choice.
However, it is not better to collect as many Chinese listening resources as possible at the beginning, so just select recordings from one or two resources that you would like to listen to repeatedly. Make sure the listening materials come with a transcript and each recording is not longer than two minutes.
Make a listening practice plan
You need to get your ears get used to the Chinese language, accents and tones, but don’t take it too seriously. Just make a short-term learning plan and follow it, so make a plan for the first month.
It is highly recommended to set aside thirty minutes per day to do active Chinese listening with one or two recordings (you can learn more about “active listening” below).
You can practice listening every day or give yourself one day off from a week, even you skip some days, just go on and don’t blame yourself. The key point is to know you are on the way to master Chinese listening and keep going.
Train your ears by active listening
Active listening means listening to a recording repeatedly to understand everything or almost everything.
It sounds boring to listen to the same recording many times, but like your strength training at the gym, active Chinese language listening helps you become “dou ting de dong” (understand everything) from “dou ting bu dong (understand nothing)” by focusing on listening.
The whole process generally includes the following four steps:
First, listen to the whole recording without reading the transcript.
You don’t need to catch every detail, just focus on understanding the general meaning and try to understand as much as you can. At this step, you can play the entire recording one or two times, and write down how much of the Chinese words you can understand generally.
Second, listen to the recording and take dictation.
You can replay the recording for a few more times until you can figure every single Chinese word out. It’s better to pause and replay the recording sentence by sentence (no more than seven words you hear).
Third, check your dictation notes by reading a transcript of the recording
When you are reading the transcript, remember to look up any word or Chinese grammar construction you don’t understand. After reading the transcript, you can evaluate how much you are able to understand the recording and it will be clear to know what you get trouble with. Remember to note down your accuracy rate, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a high score just yet.
Fourth, read the transcript loud and do shadowing exercises
Sometimes you may find native speakers are talking so fast that you cannot understand what you actually can understand. It’s because you cannot speak as fast as what you hear, your ears are too used to your own speed so that you cannot catch up with others. Here, “shadowing exercises” is recommended: replay the recording and mimic it with a one-second delay while playing. You also need to practice again and again until you are able to repeat the content as fast as the recording.
Check your milestone and make adjustments by month
Something you may ignore is to check how much progress you have made, but it is an important part to boost yourself up.
After you complete your practice plan after a month, go back to the FIRST recording you practice with and listen to it again. If you had only understood 70% of the recording, then you would find yourself understand much more of it!
If you feel tired of the active listening practice, that’s good: you’re learning! But feel free to have some changes. You can try extensive Chinese language listening practice as an alternative. It means you do not need to understand every single word of the recording you use, but just need to listen to as much Chinese as you can. In this way, you can listen to anything you want, such as Chinese podcasts and Chinese TV shows. Don’t worry if you cannot understand them at all, and just make use of subtitles or transcripts of the audios.
Attention, the goal of extensive Chinese listening is to help you get the “sense” of the Chinese language. If you want to improve your listening comprehension steadily, you need to spend at least three to six months on active listening practice and even add it to your routine for long-term learning.
Any type of practice only works when you put it into practice. So, make time to plan your listening practice and just start it.